Austin mom fights for in-person instruction for special needs

Michelle Torres fought for her son to get two hours every day.

AUSTIN, Texas — An Austin mother wants to know why her son, who has special needs, is one of the few in the Austin Independent School District being offered in-classroom instruction.

Michelle Torres said it took her asking for the service instead of the district offering it.

She shared a video she took of her son inside Barton Hills Elementary School as eight-year-old Aaron concentrated on his jumping jacks during a one-on-one session with his life skills instructor last week.

Torres said her third-grader doesn’t have issues following school-related instructions on campus. That’s not so when it comes to online learning at home.

“So when he’s home, he wants to do his home things. And then when he’s at school, he does. He focuses at school. And that’s part of that autism and Down syndrome trait that they, you know, differentiate everything to what they’re used to in their surroundings. So when he’s at school, I’m at school,” Torres said. 

That’s why Torres said she fought for her son to go back to the classroom setting.

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Every day, he meets with a life skills instructor for two hours, because his autism and Down syndrome diagnoses make it impossible for him to concentrate on school at home.

“It was, it was challenging. And I was super frustrated because, you know … for him having Down syndrome, he’s already mentally delayed a few years,” she said.

According to the AISD, there are 9,916 students enrolled in special education.

Torres said school officials have had plenty of time to come up with a re-entry plan for Aaron and the other special ed students.

“Why did it take me to reach out? You know, AISD has had over seven months to figure something out and they should have had something in place,” said Torres.

So far, Torres has helped another special needs parent get the two-hour classroom instruction a day for their child. She now wants the district to offer this service to all special needs children as well.

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KVUE reached out to AISD for a comment. It released the following statement: 

“The AISD Special Education Department apologizes for this parent’s experience and will review her concerns to understand. We are committed to ensuring that every child has the support and access to the highest quality education we can offer as a district. Our expectation is that all students’ needs are met and routinely assessed for opportunities for improvement or adjustment to services in accordance with special education law and mandates regarding student services.

“Through this challenging unprecedented pandemic, the district has remained committed to meeting the individualized needs of students with disabilities. This commitment includes the collaboration with students’ families and the consideration of special factors sometimes presented by parents. Our efforts to keep students safe and provide a free appropriate public education have no singular approach, and it has required us all to stay ready for swift shifts to serve our students.”

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